Saturday, 30 January 2016

January 27 - May you be happy?


The white tops of the Lepetimnos mountains tower over the north of the island. Nestled against the mountain, the medieval village of Molyvos, which consists of houses of dark stone with colourful wooden extension is given the look of an Afghan mountain village, exotic and mysterious, by the snowy mountains.

The harbour offers a splendid view of this rare scenery because winters on this island are not always provided with a white blanket. It is marvellous to linger some time there in the harbour where all the boats are tight up at the quays. A fisherman busies himself in his kingdom and volunteers walk up and down, some busy with work to do, others at an easy pace waiting to be called to action.

The sun is as strong as in spring and warms the bones that have suffered so much with the intense cold of the past days. Conversations always roam around the subject of the refugees. What else should one talk about here, in what some call a war zone. And while my body purrs with pure happiness because of the heavenly warmth, the wheels in my brain whirl around, becoming red when a subject passes that agitates me. The stupid political world-theatre makes me feel powerless and angry.

Here on the island you can find the new world, that politicians refuse to see. Instead of the bankrupt state or the failing Europe, hundreds of volunteers have come to act. While the Schengen borders are being closed, they cross borders because they have lost faith in the politics and have decided to act themselves. Meanwhile boats with refugees keep on coming, their timetable not altered by any storm or snow fall, even though some arrivals are a disaster and not everyone reaches safe ground.

It is difficult to choose: shall I make a fuss during a discussion or shall I surrender to the feeling of happiness caused by the warmth of the sun. Much of the time I no longer know what to do with my feelings. When I watch out over the sea, I feel love for this superb surface, that each day offers different views and produces such good food. When a fishing boat passes over the horizon, life seems to be good. But when I see a piece of refugee garbage I realize that the clear splashing water is also a silent killing machine. The fish are no longer the only ones swimming in the sea.

When the sea, as it has recently, is fuming with rage and engulfed in layers of foam, I admire the metamorphosis; then my thoughts take an ugly turn when I remember that people are forced to cross this raging mass to find a safe home.
When the sun takes up her palette and paints the clouds pink and the white mountains ruby red, I can suddenly feel a fear rising for the coming darkness, the perfect cover for illegal sea crossings.
When the friendly smiles of the first anemones appear, your thoughts wander towards the approaching spring, the time that the island will be covered with flowers; but a slice of fear comes up too: am I supposed to enjoy this season, while so many people fight for their lives?

While I snuggle under my comfortable warm blankets, I think of the mud and the tents blown away by a storm in camp Moria and I reach for a book to forget.
When I watch over the pure blue sea and see a bright coloured dinghy passing by and the street fills with all kind of cars, I bow over my computer to continue my life.
When I joyfully sing while preparing nice scented dishes, I know that when the guests arrive, the atmosphere will inevitably change because of heavy conversations about the islanders who are afraid of what is coming.

At the moment, it is not a pretty world for the feelings. This beautiful island offers so much solace but also causes my heart to bounce from ying to yang, from black to white, from positive to negative. The pendulum swings back and forth between happiness and sorrow, between quietness and rage, between life and death.
Sometimes I feel quilty because I laugh, because I sleep, because I eat, because I live. But that does not make the refugees happy. So I put a smile back to my face, I sleep sweet dreams, eat tasty dishes and continue my life, that now that it's connected with the refugees, has taken another turn.

I release my feelings making havoc. Gratitude moistens my eyes in seeing so many strangers who choose to come and help people, and tears will flow when seeing another dinghy arriving full of anxious eyes and screams.

After all the waves have risen out of the blue water, and the beaches are left lonely places calling for the summer; the trees branches get softly lulled in the whispering wind, and the mountains silently observe. Life continues, I know; but time and time again this question rises: are you allowed to be happy in times of so much sorrow and misery?

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2016

Thursday, 14 January 2016

January 10 – I want my island back

(the aqueduct of Moria)

Last week on Facebook somebody cried that he wanted back his beach. Beaches that in the summer are shadowed by trees and are popular with Greek families and now are scattered with shipwrecks: no longer a perfect playground for children. And now it was suggested that volunteers could also clean up the beaches.

I know more people who want something back: houses, family, lives. I myself would have back the island as it was some years ago, in the pre-European period: when restaurants were still full of happy Greeks who sang about life and danced around the tables, a period that was not in the shadow of history that now races at high speed over the world. We will have to accept that there is no way back, unless a working time machine can be constructed.

Lesvos is a very old island and if I had to choose in which time I could visit the island, I would have to take some time to choose, because there were so many fascinating periods.

According to recent archaeological finds close to Lisvori, 2.6 million years ago people here were already trying to get their lives together. The island was still part of the opposite mainland and lots of monsters still creeped around: mastodons, mammoths and giant turtles. I would not like to meet those for real.

During the siege of Troy (1184 BC) Lesvos would have been a good place to watch all those heroes pass by. Next came a time of different Hellenic dominations, centuries in which the island became a rich naval power, and conquered a big part of the opposite coast. I would have loved to see the busy sea traffic between Lesvos and the then so-called Coast of the Mytilinians. Maybe Eftalou was then a lively village with a fish market.

Then came the Persians, who had an empire as big as the whole Middle East area that is now in conflict. But even that empire was not eternal and was overthrown by the Arabs and the Greeks. Some of the states of Lesvos became divided and declared war on each other, for example Molyvos and Mytilini. Perhaps this would not have been a nice period to visit, although the book about Daphne and Chloƫ portraits it as a romantic period.

The Romans put an end to them fighting Greeks and promoted the island as a paradise for holiday makers, although they also sent exiled people here. Strange fellows, those Romans, but I would have loved to see them whirling around over my beloved island. I picture them lying with their fat bellies, around tables full of Lesvorian food, tasting flamingo tongues, followed by some Roman delicacy. After which they would venture out on an excursion to Agiasos in order to eat wild boar. But they did find time to build aqueducts, like the one in Moria that survived the centuries.

Again that big empire crashed and the glorious Byzantium arose, but its brocade bestowed leaders did not care about Lesvos and so many power-mad men tried to conquer the island, like the Genoese Gattilusi family, who held the island for one century. That also does not seem a nice time to see the island, because all the coastal villages were very much afraid of the famous pirates who raided the coasts and kept alive the slave trade. It was in these times that the castles of Molyvos and Mytilini were rebuilt as fortresses.

The Ottomans ended both Byzantium and the power of the Gattilusi. But even though the island was occupied for centuries, Lesvos again prospered. In her last Ottoman century Mytilini became a lively merchantile city, definitely worth a visit. It is said that the most beautiful women of the Levant gallivanted through its streets in the midst of a crowd of international merchants. Lots of countries had an embassy on Lesvos and its goods were sent as far as the Black Sea. It was the last Golden Century for Lesvos, because by the time the island could again call itself Greek (1912), luck and money had again left the island and its population could hardly survive. After World War II many people fled to faraway countries like Australia, Argentina and South Africa.

Only when Greece finally came into the hands of Europa, the people began to forget their nightmares of hunger and the shops filled up again. The big empire of Europe was not as cruel as its predecessors, but the new imposed tax system is reminiscent of the Ottoman Pashas who for centuries ripped-off the Greek people.

Now it looks like the Persians have returned. Thousands of refugees from southeastern countries invade the island. This army, the victims of international power games, however is welcomed as humanely as possible. But it is the forewarning of a new direction in history, not only for Lesvos, but especially for fading Europa that neglected Greece and now is on the brink of falling apart.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2016